We know you guys like your fall pumpkin beers, and we have just received a fresh supply of limited stock pumpkin cheese!
Las Colinas Beverages is a great store that sells great wines and beers. The service at LCB is outstanding.
If The Dallas Wine Store Review (fictional publication) had written the above in its review of LCB, how much trust would you place in that review compared to the same statement written by LCB in a paid advertisement placed in the Dallas Morning News? Put another way, who are you going to believe when it comes to knowing how good a washing machine performs--the salesman or Consumer Reports?
BusinessDictionary.com defines shelf-talkers as a "printed card or other sign attached to a store shelf to call buyers' attention to a particular product displayed on that shelf." You have seen these at all the wine stores, and they can and should be helpful to consumers. The problem is that many wine departments have poor or non existent shelf-talker policies. This means that the shelf talkers they allow are meaningless for consumers.
Shelf talkers from wineries will always tell you that their wines are good. Shelf talkers from wine marketing events (competitions) are dubious. Shelf talkers from wine department managers can be very helpful--maybe the most helpful; however, keep in mind the information I provided in my previous blog post about wine department staff.
This being the case, whose shelf talkers should you believe? At LCB I only allow shelf talkers from five publications: Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate primarily but also International Wine Cellar, Pinot Report, and Burghound. These publications have been around for many years and have highly educated and experienced staff. Wine Spectator was founded in 1976 and Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate was founded in 1978 (Parker has had biographies and documentaries written about him). Gregory Walter is the writer, editor, and publisher of Pinot Report, and he had a 14 year career with Wine Spectator. Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar was founded in 1985. Allen Meadows' Burghound has been in existence since 2000.
All of these publications take a consumer advocate position. They all conduct blind tastings, and none use tasting panels. Tasting panels are used, for example, by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. This magazine has great articles by educated staff. But when it comes to reviewing wines it uses a tasting panel. Here is what Robert Parker (Wine Advocate) has to say about tasting panels (and I agree):
"Wines of great individuality and character rarely win a committee tasting because there is going to be at least one taster who will find something objectionable about the wines. Therefore, tasting panels, where all grades are averaged, frequently appear to find wines of great individuality unusual. Can anyone name just one of the world's greatest red or white wines that is produced by the consensus of a committee [?]...The opinion of an individual taster, despite that taster's prejudices and predilections, if reasonably informed and comprehensive, is always a far greater guide to the ultimate quality of the wine than that of a committee. At least the reader knows where the individual stands, whereas with a committee, one is never quite sure."
After conducting my own research in three separate years I found that for the vast majority of wines, Wine Enthusiast gave these wines a higher numerical rating than did any of the above recommended publications. This continues to be the case today whenever I compare the numerical ratings of these publications for the same wine. It may still be the case that its tasting panel approves wines that a separate taster will then sample in order to rate it and write the review. In this case it is very understandable why its numerical ratings are higher: the psychological affect upon the final taster of a panel having already approved the wine adds a few (or many) more points to the wine's rating.
I say all this, along with what I said in my previous blog post, in order to give you the understanding of how I do my job as a beer and wine director: I do my job as your advocate. For 12 years in the industry, I have performed my job as a consumer advocate. Therefore, I think a lot about all the details of managing a wine department--all the details that must be performed properly so that they all benefit the consumer. Shelf-talkers, then, are used by all wine departments, but not all wine departments (probably most) have a working theory about why and how these should be used to benefit consumers.
Along with using some shelf-talkers by the recommended publications, many wine departments use this combination of shelf-talkers:
Also, there are rare occasions when, after having tasted a wine, I completely disagree with a poor review by one of the recommended publications. I have to be absolutely sure that what I am tasting would be pleasurable to my customers, but if I am, I will ignore a poor review and write my own Rick's Pick review on a shelf-talker.
This last point concerns Las Colinas Beverages' philosophy to wine retailing. We are a store that is committed to high industry standards of service and knowledge; we take a consumer advocate position, and we are not afraid to proclaim our own judgements of quality based on thoughtful criteria that we can explain.
What Numerical Ratings Mean
95 - 100 = Classic
90 - 94 = Outstanding
85 - 89 = Very good
80 - 84 = Good
75 - 79 = Mediocre
50 - 74 = Not recommended
The vast majority of the good quality-to-price ratio wines are usually found within the 85 to 90 range.
Wine words. Do we all define them the same? More specifically, do you and your wine salesperson define wine words the same? More often than not, the answer is no. This is because it is not mandatory for a wine consultant in a retail store to be knowledgeable about wine. Many wine shops and grocery-store wine departments have hired and continue to hire unknowledgeable and inexperienced staff.
Another person you may encounter in a wine shop or grocery-store wine department is the salesperson for one of the many wine distributors. Again, many of these people are not qualified. I once had a wine salesperson do a wine tasting at a wine store that I managed. I heard her explain to a customer that a full-bodied wine is a wine that is strong and aggressive. This, of course, is wrong.
For consumers unaware of this trend in the retail wine industry, it is a bad scenario. These salespersons do not know what most wine terms mean. What is clear is that not everyone employed in a wine shop or grocery-store wine department is qualified to properly assist consumers. Below are definitions for the basic wine terms used most often.
Body: A wine’s body is its weight in the mouth. A light-body wine has the weight of water. A medium-body wine has the weight of 2% milk. A full-body wine has the weight of whole milk.
Texture: A wine’s texture is its feel in the mouth. Texture is a product of tannins, acidity, and alcohol—wine’s structural elements.
Tannin comes from grape skins, grape stems, grape seeds, and from the oak barrels wine is aged in. Tannin is also present in coffee and black tea. It has a rough feel in the mouth described as bitter, and it has a mouth-drying effect. Tannin acts as a preservative and gives red wine its backbone.
Acidity should be present in all wines (even reds) to some degree or another. A wine that lacks sufficient acidity will be flat and lifeless. Acidity gives white wine its backbone. Acidity has a sour feel that makes the mouth pucker when substantial levels are present. A wine with correct acidity level is fresh, bright, and lively.
Alcohol is present in all wine to some degree or another. An unbalanced wine with high levels of alcohol has a “hot” feel in the moth—a burning sensation. Alcohol has a lightly sweet taste; therefore, a high alcohol wine with lots of fruit like Zinfandel may taste sweet even though it is dry (imperceptible residual sugar level).
Depending on their levels of these structural elemets, a wine is considered bitter and rough, soft and velvety, flat and insipid or something within the spectrum.
Dryness/Sweetness/Fruitiness: Sweetness is a product of sugar. A wine tastes sweet when it has a perceptible residual sugar level. Fruitiness refers to flavor, not sweetness. Dry means absence of sugar (absence of perceptible sugar). A wine can be dry and fruity but not dry and sweet. Dry does not mean rough or bitter. A wine can be dry and bitter or dry and soft. A wine can often be so fruity that some might describe it as sweet (a sugar based perception).
Wine Styles: Most grapes produce several styles of wine. For example, just because a wine is made with Cabernet Sauvignon does not mean that it is a big, full-bodied, full-flavored and aggressive wine. Cabernet can also produce a light and simple style of wine. So, most grapes can produce three general styles: light and simple, medium-bodied and balanced, and full-bodied and full-flavored (tannin and acidity levels can also add another, aggressive, dimension). Of course, a light and simple style of wine should be priced economically. And a light and simple style does not refer to an inferior quality wine. Quality does not distinguish the three styles; each style has its poor to outstanding wines.
So, when visiting your local wine shop, if you are unsure as to the quality of advice you will get from the employees, ask questions from the knowledge gained above to discover if the employees are qualified. For example, “What does full-body mean?” If the employee responds that it means wines that are strong and aggressive or something other than what I defined above, you know that you are speaking to someone that is unqualified to give you wine advice.
At Las Colinas Beverages we think that words are important because we think that beer and wine is of special interest to people that we talk to and listen to. A good wine consultant is not one that helps you select the right wine one-hundred percent of the time—there is no such thing as perfection. A good wine consultant is a reliable wine consultant because he or she will be right seventy percent of the time. The good wine consultant can only accomplish this if he or she is well educated and has learned through experience a strategic way to listen to and speak to each customer. A good wine consultant learns that asking questions is part of his or her job.
If you ever asked a wine consultant for a good bottle of red wine and he or she suggests a bottle without asking you any questions, you are not speaking to a qualified wine consultant.
Port is a fortified wine from Portugal. A neutral grape spirit (brandy) is added to the wine halfway through its fermentation. This fortifies the alcohol content, stops the fermentation process, and leaves residual sugar in the wine. Port is sweet with about 19% to 21% alcohol.
The most important styles of Port are all red. The five most important grapes are touriga nacional, tinta barroca, tinto cao, touriga francesa, and tinta roriz (known in Spain as tempranillo). These are blended in any combination.
Styles of Port
Young, fruit-forward. The least complex style; mostly no bottle aging before release. Most often aged two to three years in stainless steel tanks to prevent oxidation and preserve its bright ruby color. Simple and fruity. Grapes come from the less prestigious western end of the Douro.
Aged less than three years in barrels to expose it to gradual oxidation. Oxidizes to a tawny-brown color. Barrels impart "nutty" flavors to the wine. Not as fruity as a ruby, not as intense as an aged tawny. Lighter color may also be caused by less contact with grape skins during fermentation. For undistinguished young tawnies, lighter color may also come from blending with white port. Grapes come from the less prestigious western end of the Douro.
Age designation on the label: 10, 20, 30, and 40 year old. High quality grapes from the best regions are used. Blended from Ports of several years, left in barrel until they take on nutty, brown sugar, and vanilla flavors and a soft, silky texture. Long barrel aging changes the color to tawny. Age designation is average age of the wines used. A 20-year-old Tawny contains wines older than 20 years and some wines younger than 20 years. These Ports are about finesse.
Vintage Character Port
Confusing term. Round, juicy, no resemblance to vintage ports, and not from a single vintage. Better name would be super ruby. Made from good quality grapes aged four to six years in barrels. Bold flavors. Not very expensive.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
From a single vintage and aged in barrels for four to six years, bottled and ready to drink. Doesn’t have the aging potential of vintage Port. LBV is filtered before being bottled. Can be very good, but lacks the richness, complexity, and sophistication of vintage Port at half the cost.
Themost expensive. Made only in exceptional years—designated on the bottle. All grapes in the blend come from that vintage, from the top regions and vineyards of the Douro. Aged 2 years in barrels then 10 years in bottle. Vintage Ports are about power. Neither fined nor filtered, it throws sediment as it matures in the bottle. Must be decanted.
The User's Manual
Enjoy Port on its own after a meal.
Fine cigars: pick a port from any style.
Blue Cheese and Roasted Nuts: Especially Stilton and Gorgonzola
Ruby, Vintage Character, LBV, and Vintage Ports: berry and plum pies and tarts, warm flourless chocolate cake, chocolate soufflé, black forest cake, devil's food cake, milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate
Tawny Ports: crème brulee, banana tart, bananas foster, banana cake, pecan pie, almond cake, walnut cake, almond cookies, pecan cookies, walnut cookies, caramel, any of the previous items combined with nutmeg or cinnamon
Below you will see our selection of wines that will pair very well with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The Thanksgiving dinner plate is a very busy plate and can have many of the traditional ingredients: turkey, ham, cranberry (sauce and/or mold), squash, yams, stuffing, potatoes, rice, corn, green beans, peas, carrots, turnips, etc.
The traditional Thanksgiving wines to serve with this banquet are Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. I will add to this list Lambrusco and Brachetto. These last two are frizzante (fizzy) red wines from Italy.
After the list of our selected wines, I will discuss good Thanksgiving dessert wines.
Why These Wines With These Foods?
The traditional Thanksgiving plate has many earthy elements: white meat turkey, potatoes, rice, green beans, peas, carrots, yam.
The traditional Thanksgiving plate has sweet elements: cranberry sauce, cranberry mold, stuffing (when apples and raisins are used), candied yams.
The traditional Thanksgiving plate has salty elements: ham, stuffing (depending on how it is prepared), bacon in mashed potatoes, bacon braised green beans.
The traditional wines paired with these food elements are dry but fruity, or sweet and fruity. These wines complement the sweet elements of the food or perfectly contrast the earthy and salty elements of the food.
This dry (no perceptible sugar) red wine is probably the most food friendly red. It is the hardest grape to produce into wine because of its very thin skin and its cool climate requirement. Because of this it is difficult to find a good one under $15.00.
Its thin skin also means that it will not have the bold tannic structure that a thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon can have. Tannin is felt on the palate as a woody and astringent (bitter) element. This element is imparted into the wine primarily from the grape skin.
Pinot Noir's earthy element is of a loamy character as opposed to a dusty/dirty soil character of a Cabernet. Its fruit profile leans heavily toward red and black berries and cherries.
This white wine can be made dry to very sweet. Many wine experts consider riesling the most noble and unique white grape variety in the world. It makes for one of the most spectacular food and wine experiences when paired with smoky, spicy, salty, or highly seasoned foods.
Good riesling (sweet or dry) will show excellent extraction of flavor and vibrant support from acidity. Many will also display minerality that adds even more complexity. They are intensely flavorful with a ravishing delicacy. Its fruit profile can consist of apple, apricot, pear, peaches, and melons. One might also sense a floral quality.
We have dry and sweet rieslings. Overall, in my opinion, Washington probably produces the best rieslings in the U.S.
A very eccentric white wine. Gewurz means spice in German. This wine is not spice-rack spicy; the spice refers to the wine's perfume, floral and sometimes gingerbread and vanilla notes that inform the bold flavors that can consist of lychee, passion fruit, melon, fruit-cocktail syrup, grapefruit, honeysuckle, smoke, stones, and minerals.
This wine has massive fruitiness that can be mistaken for sweetness even if it is bone dry.
Lambrusco and Brachetto (the coca-colas of wine)
As I already mentioned, these wines are red and fizzy (what Italians call frizzante). Now I will mention that they are best served very cool to refrigerator cold. I call these the coca-colas of wine.
Lambrusco is the name of a grape and the wine. It is made in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy (the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese). The color can vary from light red to dark, purple-red. Lambrusco can be dry, but most of the ones available in the U.S. are slightly sweet and fruity. They can be so fruity that they can seem sweeter, but the sweetness is not a candy, sticky sweetness. Also, it will display fairly high acidity so that there is a sweet-tart complexity. By the way, Lambrusco is the perfect pizza and hamburger wine.
Brachetto is the name of the grape. This wine is made in Piedmont. This wine is pure rose petals and strawberries, raspberries, and cherries. The wine can be made slightly sweet to medium sweet. I also detect some loamy earth. As in Lambrusco, this wine is not candy, sticky sweet. Brachetto is the perfect chocolate wine. It is amazing with chocolate; try it with chocolate cake and fresh raspberries. But it is very versatile and will pair well with smoky, salty, spicy, and highly seasoned foods.
Both Lambrusco and Brachetto are as sweet as coca-cola (and fizzy and served cold). So if you like coca-cola and have it with many of your meals, there is no reason to not like wines at the same perceptible sweetness level as long as they are well made.
And now, without further pontification and delay, we present the wines.
Las Colinas Beverages All-Star Turkey Day Wines
(Non Vintage) Stonewood, California $8.99 2009 McManis, California $13.99
2009 Poppy, Monterey County, California $16.99
2009 Ramspeck, Napa Valley, California $18.99
2008 Illahe, Willamette Valley, Oregon $24.99 (89 points Wine Spectator)
2009 Calera, Central Coast, California, $29.99 (92 points Wine Advocate)
2009 Morgan Twelve Clones, Santa Lucia Highlands, California $29.99 (90 points Wine Spectator)
2010 Loosen Bros. Dr. L (sweet), Germany $11.99 (previous 3 vintages = 88, 90, and 89 points respectively by Wine Spectator)
2010 Pacific Rim Sweet (medium sweet), Washington $12.99 (88 points Wine Advocate))
2010 Pacific Rim (medium dry), Washington $12.99 (85 points Wine Spectator)
2010 Dr. Pauly Noble House (sweet), Germany $13.99 (previous 3 vintages = 90, 89, and 88 points respectively by Wine Spectator)
2009 Leitz Out (sweet), Germany $14.99
2010 Gauthier G-Squared (very close to dry), Santa Lucia Highlands, Hillside Vineyards $16.99
2009 Pacific Rim (medium dry), 83% Washington 17% Oregon $12.99 (87 points Wine Spectator)
2009 Chateau Julien (very close to dry), Monterey County, California $14.99
Lo Duca Reggiano, Italy $12.99
Castello del Poggio, Italy $
Thanksgiving Dessert Wines
Desserts: Pumpkin Pie, Apple Pie, Pecan Pie
Rotta Black Monukka, California, 19% ABV, .375ml, $24.99: Rotta is a California winery that was established in 1908. This wine is made with the red, Black Monukka grape. The wine's color is bronze. After fermentation, the wine is stored in barrels in the direct sun. It is "sun-baked" for two years outside; this caramelizes the natural sugars, and this is evident in the caramel notes on the palate. The extraction of oak and vanilla from two years of barrel aging is also evident in the aroma and flavor. Pair with pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies. My tasting notes follow.
A gorgeous dessert wine. Big, complex flavor profile, and strong, rich aromatics. Present in aroma and flavor are caramelized pecans, vanilla, caramel, butter sauteed almonds, and hints of sun-baked nectarine. Rich, full-bodied, and perfectly sweet. --Rick
2006 Forrest Estate Botrytised Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand, 9%ABV, .375ml, $29.99: Botrytis cinerea is a beneficial fungus that attacks late harvest grapes that are used to make dessert wine. Also know as 'noble rot', this fungus consumes some of the water in the grape, concentrating the sugar. Pair with apple and pecan pies
This wine is straw colored with fabulous citrus aromas and an unctuous sweet palate. Aromas of limes, mandarins, tangelos, and apricot. The palate has the botrytised derived honey and toffee as well.
We hear it all the time: "You're out of insert craft beer here?" Our reply most often is that the distributor is out of that craft beer. Sometimes the customer will ask how it happens that the distributor does not have that craft beer. Well, this is where I go into my two minute explanation about rice, corn, barley, wheat, and scarcity.
Rice and corn add very little to a beer's flavor or aroma. They are used to drastically reduce the cost of production. Beers made with rice and corn are classified as adjunct lagers (rice and corn being the adjuncts: Bud/Coors/Miller). These beers serve a purpose; they are thirst quenching and light.
Rice and corn are available in enormous quantities; there are literally hills of rice and corn stockpiled. You can not make money as a farmer growing rice and corn without government subsidies to do so because there is a huge oversupply. There is so much unused rice and corn that that the government and large biochemical companies have to find ways to use them. Therefore we get high fructose corn syrup.
So, breweries that make beer with rice and corn have as much rice and corn as they need to make as much beer as they want twenty four hours a day without ever worrying that they will run short on this stuff; their supply is constant and cheap.
Real beer, craft beer, does not use rice or corn. Craft beer uses only barley or wheat, hops, yeast, and water. Barley and wheat are scarce compared to rice and corn. This scarcity makes these commodities more expensive and less available. These commodities also add much more flavor and aroma to a beer.
Then there are issues related to production. Craft breweries like to produce a good assortment of beer styles, and, in order to do so, many of them have to temporarily halt production of one style in order to use the fermentation tanks to produce a different style--or a limited edition or seasonal beer.
In short, then, craft beer production is affected by the scarcity of grains used whereas adjunct lagers are not. And, craft beer production is affected by capacity at the brewery. Craft beer distributors wait on the breweries, we wait on the distributors, and customers wait on us. Every week, our distributors are out of stock on five to ten beers.
Here is an interesting article related to craft beer availability from All About Beer Magazine regarding Trappist ale distribution: The Trials and Tribulations of Trappist Ale Distribution. The outstanding Trappist ales, Rochefort 6, 8, and 10 mentioned in this article are finally available in Dallas--we have them.